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Graney: Harper has much to prove as UNLV’s new AD

The premise is true, whether you become a college athletics director for the first time or are promoted from assistant basketball coach to the head job.

Life changes dramatically when you move over one chair. Now it’s Erick Harper’s turn.

Which means he has a whole lot to prove.

UNLV has remained in-house in replacing Desiree Reed-Francois, the former Rebels athletic director who departed for the same position at Missouri.

Harper held the interim role since August and on Monday was announced as the full-time AD. He won the job following a national search and is the first Black athletics director at the school.

Now comes the hard part.

This isn’t to say the job doesn’t include a multitude of daily tasks. But the most important of them all is twofold: Can the person raise money and how do their head coaching hires perform?

Harper’s three decades of experience in athletics is well documented. Senior associate athletics director. Associate athletics director. Development. Fundraising. Marketing. Compliance. Sports administrator.

To say he is prepared is an understatement. He has earned the right to move over one chair. Doesn’t mean he will succeed. He could prove to be the best athletics director in school history. He could prove much worse.

I don’t know where he will land. You don’t. Keith Whitfield, the university president who chose Harper, certainly doesn’t.

“Erick has a strong track record in intercollegiate athletics and tremendous passion for our university, our student-athletes and our coaches,” Whitfield said via statement. “He’s also vested in our community and has a vision for the program that I believe will continue the momentum we’ve built and lead us to new levels of success in all areas of Rebel athletics.”

Football is key

It would be smart to start with football.

UNLV isn’t good at the signature sport of most any Division I program that plays it and hasn’t been for what seems like forever. Marcus Arroyo is a head coach who is 2-16 over his first two seasons. Although the 0-6 inaugural mark came during the heightened days of the pandemic.

Meaning the heightened days before the current ones.

But you can’t continue to hype facilities like the Fertitta Football Complex and Allegiant Stadium as game-changers and not turn them into some level of respectable success. No excuses. The Rebels need to be so much better. It’s on Arroyo — with Harper keeping a close eye on the pursuit of any progression — to do so.

Harper’s is not an easy job. Being a Group 5 athletics director in 2022 demands you both focus on the big picture of an ever-changing college landscape while also doing everything possible to strengthen your own program.

“Our department culture will be built on trust, empathy, compassion, care, growth and accountability,” Harper said via statement. “And we will have a dedicated team of coaches and staff who are driven to win championships, graduate our student-athletes and help them achieve at the highest level.”

Contend first

We’ve heard the part about championships from previous UNLV athletic directors — all of them, in fact — and it’s true some of the school’s Olympic sports have performed quite well.

But his primary goal should be pushing the envelope for a serious run at Mountain West contention in football and men’s basketball — or at least a spot in a minor bowl game. Raise money. Hire good coaches. Win in major sports.

That’s it. That’s all most folks care about.

Erick Harper has moved over a chair. How good a fit?

To be determined.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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